It is never easy to make a comeback in music, especially if one is considered a pop pioneer. Surely, it was not easy for Zoheb Hassan to do so. Alongside sister Nazia Hassan and Britain-based producer Biddu, Zoheb is responsible for changing the face of Pakistani music as we know it today. Before Junoon and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan went across to the other side, it was Nazia and "Aap Jaisa Koi" that created a sensation. But the disco sensation slowly but surely started dying down in the nineties when bands like Vital Signs, Junoon and Awaz became the new face of music. After Nazia's demise, Zoheb Hassan walked away from music. But now, he is back with a brand new album, "Kismet".
The Hits and Misses
After listening to "Kismet", one thing can be established: techno beats alone cannot make an album great. "Kismet" is like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces missing. As a result, it leaves the listener with an incomplete and a perplexed view.
The opening track, "Fashion" is one example of this theory. It sounds like a blast from the eighties but doesn't have the musical dynamo that tracks like "Boom Boom" or "Camera Camera" offered. Musically, it is simple with a little bit of everything thrown in – saxophone, heavy western percussion at play with weird keyboard sounds. And with Zoheb crooning, "Dekhooo Fashion, Dekhooo Fashion," it sounds somewhat amateurish. The only consolation is the idea behind the song. Now that Pakistan is finally opening up to fashion in its truest sense (possible Fashion Week, Fashion Councils, et al.), it is apt to the times that we live in. However, this very idea is chopped off in the bizarre video that marks Zoheb's comeback into music. As the lyrics go, "Naya Sa Khel Hai," one feels completely lost watching the video. Fashion progression may be new to Pakistan but the West has been at it for decades. Why then one must parade around foreign outlets? Confusing for the thinking individual, but to give Zoheb due credit, the masses are lapping it up as the video continues to get heavy airplay on all music channels.
There are a few numbers on the album that stand out. And the clear winner is undoubtedly, "Kaisay Main Batao". A soft number, this track has a very classical feel to it. This is a pure ballad with intricate sitar in the background alongside acoustic guitar and soft piano playing. Zoheb sings with full authority and manages to sweep the listener into a surreal ambience. Magnificent number. On a similar note one finds the morbid "Khuda Hafiz". There is desperation in Zoheb's voice as he sings, "Aap Ka Khuda Khafiz/Kyun Aati Hai Yaad/Tum Nahie Saath." The music is mellow in this song. Even as Zoheb continues to experiment with a beat in almost all his songs, this one track is more towards soft rock genre than filmi-pop and dance hall. The focus remains on acoustic guitar and works superbly here.
Another shining number on the album is the title track, "Kismet". Slightly fast-paced, melodic with a powerful beat that shifts the tempo up and down, it is just a fun song. This is a foot-tapping number but can be heard outside a club-like ambience. And that is the beauty of it all. Lyrically, it works on two levels: the personal experience of a man who believes in fate but there is also a generic theme that fate can be a pain at times but never give in. There is a lot of hope in the undertone of this track.
Female singing comes in the form of Sehr Tariq who has done two duets on the album. Unfortunately, she is no patch on the absolutely brilliant vocals of Nazia Hassan. On "Yaadein" it is Zoheb who steals the limelight in terms of singing. Sehr remains over pitched throughout. The overall feel of the song is very 'filmi'. The wordplay that pinpoints to memories of a lost love paired with piano, guitars and flute just makes this song average at best. The other duet with Sehr, "Yeh Tou Kya Hogaya" sounds too familiar to "Yaadein". The reason why this track falls short is because of the treatment given to it. Lyrically, it's a rather pedestrian love song: "Yeh Tou Kya Hogaya/Ek Pal Mein Mera Dil Kho Gaya." Again acoustic guitars take a strong force in the music. The addition of tabla and flute don't do much for the song. This slow number is simply put, dull!
The rest of the songs on the album vary between average to bad. Most Pakistani singers cannot sing in English. Sajid Ghafoor and Hamza Ali Jafri are exceptional cases. To find Zoheb singing in English on "Will it ever be the same" comes as a shock! The lyrics are clichéd as Zoheb goes, "Love you again/Will it ever be the same." It's just a Backstreet Boys reminder. Musically, this song is all over the place and is a bit too ambitious. In the beginning, it reminds one of "Main Ney Tumhari Gaagar Sey" (Alamgir) but in the middle the pop element comes in ala keyboards and then back to folksy tunes. The desi percussion paired with keyboards have not been connected properly thus making the song mediocre.
A social message comes in the form of "Gina" and "Jaltey Hain". "Gina" works like a typical filmi-pop number with pianos, keyboards and percussion forming the structure. However, had the drumming been stronger, it would've saved the song. "Gina" is about a girl who has disappeared and her parents miss her and want her to come back. As noble as this idea maybe, it still makes "Gina" an ordinary song at best. On the other hand, "Jaltey Hain" has a big beginning and soon the song works its way through keyboard nuances and a techno beat. There is no "Pakistan, Pakistan" but just the way the song has been written, "Baatein Kartey Hain Tau Karney Do/Hastein Hain Tau Hasney Do," it gives a patriotic vibe. It's neither here nor there.
The most confusing songs on the album remain "Tum Hi Tum" and "Kaise Hai Yeh Log". You keep hoping for something to happen but it doesn't. "Tum Hi Tum" has a rather hip-hopish feel with techno beats but the maxim point never arrives. It sounds a tad saturated.
Lyrically, "Kismet" is very clichéd. But that was expected from this album, considering the past record of Nazia-Zoheb music. However, it is the treatment given to majority of the songs that creates a problem. Times have changed. Back in the eighties, listeners weren't as aware of beats and sounds as they are today. There was no one else doing something quite like this in the local scene. Now, artists like Omer Inayat and Annie have experimented with beats and churned out hits such as "You've Got Something" and "Mahiya". House music is the order of the day. More importantly, techno beats don't always work. Because simple techno is all over television and the internet.
Sadly, this is the biggest problem with "Kismet". Without Biddu's musical wizardry and Nazia's vocals, Zoheb Hassan alone has not been able to do much. With exception to a few songs, "Kismet" is another ordinary album.
Commercially, this album just might do well. With no big albums releasing this year (except for Aaroh's "Raag Neela"), listeners are looking out for albums. Zoheb is a legend amongst the youth even today. This factor may help "Kismet" sell. Beyond that, "Kismet" remains a disappointment. There is nothing groundbreaking or excellent about this album. Hopefully, the next time, Zoheb will focus more on the treatment of each song than creating waves of beats that leave one confused and somewhat disappointed. But then again, perhaps we expect too much from Zoheb; "Young Tarang", "Boom Boom" and "Disco Deewane" are hard nay, impossible to top.Maheen Sabeeh